Mangaia stands as one of the oldest islands in the Pacific, being around 18 million years old. It is steeped in tradition and oral history that befits its antiquity and the indigenous islanders that inhabit it. Mangaia, traditionally known as A'ua'u Enua which translates to terraced island, is mainly of a karst landscape shaped by the erosion of limestone over millions of years. Mangaia is one of three islands in the Cook Islands that remains governed by traditional leaders. It is one of five islands of the southern group group of the Cook Islands.
Results from a recent impact assessment field trip to Mangaia in May 2022 by the GCCA+ SUPA project, spotlighted the important role of local indigenous knowledge in complementing tangible on-the-ground actions as an exemplar of community resiliency to the adverse impacts of a changing climate and shifting cultural values placed on their land and tradition.
The impact assessment of the rā'ui, a traditional method of conservation and preservation of natural resources, identified its effectiveness in allowing marine species to recover between harvests. Focus group discussions with the traditional leaders indicated that the allocated rā'ui conservation areas around the island were in good condition. However, there is still a need for greater community-based monitoring of the resources.
Paramount chief and traditional leader of Mangaia, Numangātini Ariki, Tangi Tereapi'i said “For me, I have to weigh the application of regulations on the people when considering management of the Raui. Tangi Tereapi’i wears two hats; as the island's Paramount Chief and the other as a government official, the Director of Renewable Energy Program at the Office of Prime Minister. Therefore, he is engaged at different roles- in government, on the island and in the House of Ariki in the Cook Islands.
There are three pillars of governance in the Cook Islands; the national government, island government and Aronga Mana through the house of Ariki and the Koutu Nui as well as through their membership on the Island Council of the Island Government provide advice to the government on traditional matters/ issues concerning the nation. This was exemplar during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown of borders.
“I appreciate the reporting back of study results especially to the Aronga Mana when we talk about activities on the land. The Aronga Mana (traditional leaders council) have the deciding power on the island to accept and or support any project on the island. Analysis of the Kei'ā Rā'ui, for me, we have to weigh the regulations for management of the rā'ui and our tradition of the rā'ui, for it is not only to protect the environment and food security. In 2024, we will be celebrating 200 years on Mangaia and the rā'ui will be to cater for the visitors as part of the celebration. Are you going to punish our people or enforce as the leaders of the islands. Put aside the regulations and promoting our mana in our traditional power to educate our people, I believe the people will abide with the mana of the rā'ui; apply our mana as traditional power for our rā'ui. From the case study on the Kei'ā Rā'ui supports our own way of keeping our rā'ui and that it works. Tradition means is working so why create laws to punish our people and use those laws to govern our rā'ui” says the Paramount Chief of Mangaia.
He further highlights the importance of an impact assessment, “Impressions since the report back and outcome of the impact study, highlighted the need of such a tool that gives insight on the strengths and what capacity needs to be supported. With so many projects in Mangaia, it is good to use the tools to understand the impacts of these projects of water whether positively or negatively to the people. For sure, negatively, due to lack of maintenance, capacity to sustain the water projects. This study gives evidence to support future water projects like the lessons from the Tamarua water supply system one as we have other water projects on the islands and we need to improve water supply”.
The GCCA+ SUPA project, funded by the European Union is delivered collaboratively by SPREP, Pacific Community (SPC) and the University of the South Pacific (USP) with the aim to enhance climate change adaptation and resilience within the Pacific region.